What Was the Point of "Discourses on Livy" by Machiavelli?

Machiavelli's "Discourses on Livy" intended to highlight the virtues of the ancient Roman republic so that contemporary city states could apply those principles and improve their civic vitality. Machiavelli lived during the Italian Renaissance, when intellectuals were interested in reviving the science and art of Greece and Rome. By analyzing the annals of Livy, Machiavelli wanted to prove that the political systems of Rome could also be emulated.

Machiavelli, an avid student of history deeply involved in the politics of his day, believed that the city states of Italy would flourish by implementing the practices of Rome. According to Machiavelli, his contemporaries considered it impossible to emulate ancient political virtue. Thus, he set out to show that the principles underlying the history of the Roman republic are universal; his method for doing so was to write commentaries on the chronicles of the Roman historian Livy.

Throughout the discourses, Machiavelli defends the role of civic religion as a way of fostering public virtue and maintaining social order, citing the success of Rome's second ruler, Numa, as a prime example. He stresses the importance of decisive action, asserting that slow decisions are harmful to a state, no matter who makes them. In the last book of the treatise, Machiavelli argues for the capacity for great men to effect enduring change within a republic.